Everyone hates burpees: but where did they come from (and why do them)?

Burpees: ugh! Here's a look at everyone's favourite love-to-hate bodyweight exercise, including why we should do them!

Most people are familiar with burpees from bootcamp or school, circuits or CrossFit. Their proper name is squat thrusts, but burpees somehow seems more appropriate for this most obnoxious of body weight exercises. There's no denying that they're good for us (more on that later), but where did burpees come from, anyway? (No, the answer isn't "hell").

We have a chap by the name of Royal H Burpee to thank for the exercise now so loved by bootcamp instructors the world over. The academic developed the full-body move as part of his studies into Applied Physiology in 1939. Back in the day, when calisthenics were a popular form of body weight training for athletes and the physical culture movement, Dr Burpee was keen to create one movement which would not only develop all-round strength but could be used to quickly assess an individual's base fitness levels.

In the 1930s, sports science was a fledgling field and very little work had been done in the study of fitness in non-athletes. Regular people held very little interest to most physiologists and even gym owners of the time. Dr Burpee was something of a pioneer in that respect - he held a key role at the YMCA in New York City, and wanted to develop a system for assessing the fitness levels and physiological barriers of regular people who walked through his gym door.

The burpee, as it came to be known, was so successful because the quick shift in body position (from vertical to horizontal), forces the heart and circulatory system to work harder, shuttling blood around the core and limbs.  In fact, when the USA entered World War II, they adopted the burpee movement as a way of assessing the physical fitness of Army and Navy recruits.

 

Now you know more about the backstory of the burpee, here's how (and why) you should do them yourself.

 

How to do a burpee

  • Stand tall and lower into a squat
  • Once you are in a deep squat, place your hands on the floor and thrust your feet back so your body is in a strong plank position
  • You can add a press up in here if you want!
  • Jump your feet back to in-between your hands
  • Stand - or jump - back up (advanced version of the burpee would have you jumping high into the air)
  • Land softly and immediately lower into your next burpee
  • Fun!

 

 

Why should you do burpees?

  1. A fast and effective way to get your heart rate up
  2. Uses every major muscle group
  3. Challenges the circulatory system 
  4. Builds functional strength through use of body weight
  5. Encourages better co-ordination
  6. Boosts your explosive power
  7. Builds stamina
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